The ‘29th Cross Internacional de Itálica’ which will be held in Santiponce (Seville) on Sunday (16) will arguably offer one of the most remarkable line-ups so far this season.
The race is the fifth of the twelve IAAF Cross Country Permit Meetings of the 2010/2011 series held in the lead up to the 39th IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbría, Spain, on 20 March just some miles away Sunday’s venue.
MEN - Ebuya, Medhin, Komon, T.Bekele…vast array of talent assembled
Armed with a large 420,000 US$ budget, elite athlete coordinator José Manuel Díaz had at first brought together the first four men from last March’s World championships in Bydgoszcz but Uganda’s reigning bronze medallist Moses Kipsiro – a two time winner in Itálica – has finally had to pull out of the event due to a minor injury.
Even so, the 10,800m event offers the third encounter on this cross country campaign between Kenya’s World champion Joseph Ebuya and Eritrea’s current silver medallist Tekelmariam Medhin. As their previous clashes have resulted in a 1-1 tie result, Sunday’s showdown promises to be a fierce battle between them.
The Madrid-based Medhin got the better of Ebuya at the opening IAAF permit in Atapuerca last 7 November when he beat the Kenyan by two seconds while Ebuya took revenge over the Eritrean in Alcobendas on 5 December when the Kenyan was an overwhelming victor some 19 seconds ahead of his arch-rival.
Ebuya and Medhin have proved to be in fine form very recently as they both took convincing victories last Sunday (9), Ebuya in Amorebieta and Medhin in Fuensalida (Spain).
But by no means are either Ebuya nor Medhin guaranteed a win on Sunday since the star-studded line-up also includes Kenya’s Leonard Komon, who is an accomplished cross country specialist having placed successively 2nd, 4th, 4th at the last three World Cross Country Championships.
In addition, the 23-year-old Komon set a couple of World records last autumn with efforts of 26:44 for the 10km on road event in Utrecht last 26 September and 41:13 for the 15km in Nijmegen on 21 November. Komon is also the defending champion in Itálica and has shown excellent fitness by taking the runner-up spot behind Ebuya at the San Giorgio Su Legnano XC permit held last 6 January.
The seemingly never-ending list of aces on tap keeps on with Ethiopia’s 2008 World Indoor 3000m champion Tariku Bekele who should be eager to take top spot for the first time in Itálica after being second in 2007 behind his brother Kenenisa and also in 2009 after a photo-finish final to Moses Kipsiro. Bekele, who will turn 23 years of age next Friday 21, last competed on 10 October in Groningen when he came runner-up at a 4-mile race in 17:07.1.
Bekele won’t be the only Ethiopian on show on Sunday as he will be accompanied by the 20-year-old Abera Kuma, a creditable 16th in Bydgoszcz at the senior race. Kuma finished in third just behid Bekele in Groningen timed at 17:21.2.
Vincent Chepkok, Hosea Macharinyang and Mathew Kisorio, second last year here - complete the Kenyan contingent. While Chepkok is a former (2007) World Junior XC silver medallist who is fresh from a second place in Amorebieta last Sunday, Macharinyang came a respectable ninth at the last Worlds in Bydgoszcz. He took second in Fuensalida just ahead of Kisorio but both well behind Medhin.
World 3000mSsteeplechase record holder Saif Saaeed Shaheen of Bahrain and his compatriot Ali Hassan Mahboob (6th in Bydgoszcz) should also be in the top-ten alongside Uganda’s 2009 World Junior bronze medallist Moses Kibet.
The European response to such an impressive bunch of top Africans should be led by Ukraine’s nine-time European cross country champion Serhiy Lebid who after his success in Albufeira, the 35-year-old won the IAAF permit in Brussels last 19 December, and will have the opportunity of clashing the world’s crème on Sunday.
The Spanish hopes will rest on the reigning European XC silver medallist Ayad Lamdassem, fresh from a third place in Edinburgh last Saturday (8), European 1500m champion Arturo Casado, European Marathon silver medallist Chema Martínez and Ricardo Serrano.
WOMEN - Masai, Chebet, Korikwiang, Cheruiyot…who can avoid a Kenyan win?
All eyes in the women’s 8000m event will be focused on the much awaited face to face between the Kenyan pair of Emily Chebet and Linet Masai, who managed a 1-2 for their country at the Bydgoszcz World XC last March.
Masai is the defending champion in Itálica but has only raced once this winter season with a solid win in Genève over 5km on 4 December, while Chebet lost in her only appearance in the Atapuerca XC IAAF permit on 7 November when she was beaten by Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba.
Two other top-six women from Bydgoszcz should be dangerous outsiders in the guise of another Kenyan duo of Lineth Chepkurui and Margaret Muriuki. The former finished fifth at the Worlds and topped-off her summer campaign with a fine 67:47 Half Marathon clocking while Muriuki, sixth in Bydgoszcz, last raced in Venta de Baños where she had to settle for fifth on an extremely cold day which hampered her performance.
Kenya’s reigning World and Commonwealth 5000 champion Vivian Cheruiyot is another quality starter even though she is not a renowned cross country specialist. The 27-year-old ace took the win at a New Year’s Eve 5km race in Bolzano. The in-form Pauline Korikwiang will be looking to keep her momentum after taking a convincing win in Amorebieta last Sunday and will want to at least match last year’s outcome when she came second.
The youngest crop of top Africans will also be represented on Sunday thanks to Kenya’s Mercy Cherono, the reigning World Junior Cross Country and 3000m champion and Ethiopia’s Emebet Anteneh who snatched silver behind Cherono in Moncton over 3000m.
World bronze and Commonwealth 3000m steeplechase champion Milcah Chemos alongside her fellow Kenyan Iness Chenonge, the Commonwealth 5000m bronze medallist will also be in contention.
The top Europeans should be Spain’s Alessandra Aguilar (8th at last December’s Europeans in Albufeira) and Nuria Fernández, the European 1500m champion.
As usual in the city, Seville will enjoy a nice day on Sunday with the thermometer rising up to 18ºC.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF